Julie Preston

Training Operations Manager (Leadership Development)

Scottish Prison Service College

The Scottish Prison Service (SPS) is an agency of the Scottish Government’s Justice Department, employing over 4000 staff on a multi-site basis across Scotland.
The Scottish Prison Service College (SPSC) is tasked with developing and delivering training programmes and products to equip our staff with the skills and knowledge needed to achieve the strategic and operational goals of the SPS. The College currently employs around 50 people, half of whom are directly involved in the development and delivery of training.

The products delivered at the College are wide ranging, from an intensive 6 week residential training programme for new recruits, through job related operational and functional training for prison officers, to the development of leaders and managers at all levels in the organisation.
The SPS is fully aware that effective leaders and managers are crucial to our success and their development is a key part of the SPSC’s business. Practising and aspiring managers can access a range of nationally accredited programmes all of which require participants to submit work based assignments which help us identify where and to what extent learning is being transferred back into the workplace and how it’s being used to enhance learners’ own and their teams’ performance.
We have always covered the basic elements of coaching in our leadership programmes, and tutors taking on a coaching role with individual learners has become part of our normal working style. We regularly see the benefits of this approach and it has helped to make a strong case for extending and formalising the use of coaching as part of our service.

Increasingly we’re being asked to help managers explore ways to address work related performance issues, which again highlighted the requirement for us to take on a coaching role. Formal development of coaching skills seemed a logical next step in our own CPD, there being a demand for us to coach learners and evident benefits both to ourselves and our customers.
The requirement to do more with less is not unique to SPS and the demands on our managers to “work smarter” to get the best performance from their staff further supported the case for equipping them with basic coaching skills. Our intention is not to turn every manager into a coach, but more to equip them with basic coaching skills that could enhance their effectiveness in the workplace.

The first step in creating coaching capacity within SPS was the business case outlining why we should begin addressing the emerging need, and after undertaking a tendering process, we commissioned CFM Consulting to take a group of 10 college training staff through the ILM Level 5 Diploma in Management Coaching and Mentoring, all of whom had expressed a desire to develop their professional skills in this area. The Programme Manager and lead tutor for our ILM programmes was one of the people who achieved the Diploma. This role requires him to work with current and potential students to clarify their goals and manage their aspirations, so he’s building the skills into the role of career coaching. They’ve also proved useful in addressing an ongoing problem that all in house trainers know only too well, the drop out problem.
“One key issue we have…. is with the number of student dropouts from our programmes… one student recently contacted me by e-mail to say he would withdraw from the Level 3 Certificate in First Line Management programme due to pressure of work. I contacted him and used the skills I’d learned to help him explore the issues and identify what was going on for him at this time and what support, if any I could also offer. The end result was that he decided to continue with the programme and when I saw him at the next tutorial to check how things were with him, I was pleased when he responded by saying “your motivational telephone call helped me to decide that I wanted to carry on with the programme”.
Whilst our ultimate goal is to develop a coaching culture within SPS, it’s not something that can happen overnight and will not be achieved solely by training our trainers as coaches. We have to recognise that we are not in a position to make this happen across all parts of the organisation, nor should we expect every part of the business to buy in. Our approach will have to be incremental, providing opportunities to develop coaching skills, working with likeminded colleagues some of whom will become coaching champions, and who in turn will influence those around them.

The previous Director of Prisons, one of our key stakeholders, also recognised that developing a coaching culture within SPS could really add value to delivering our core business and that by equipping senior managers with coaching skills we could begin to embed a coaching approach to managing performance. We commissioned 2 programmes for senior managers, many of whom were Prison Governors, after successful completion of which they would be awarded the Professional Certificate in Coaching through Strathclyde University. A number of these senior managers have told us about the benefits they and their teams have gained through their developing coaching skills. The Deputy Governor of HMP Peterhead began to use the skills immediately.

“After completing the coaching course, I put my new found skills to good use in coaching a newly promoted unit manager within the establishment. I was able to utilise a number of tools and techniques that I had learned in order to support this manager on reflecting upon his performance and how it could be improved upon. This proved to be very successful, with the manager in question making rapid improvements in his performance. He then subsequently applied some of the techniques which we had used with his own team to similar effect”
Few if any of the senior managers who’ve undergone training regard themselves as workplace coaches and it had never been our intention to train them as such. SPS is reaping the benefit of investing in this development as they’re using the skills they’ve developed as part of their day to day working to support staff performance and development. As the Deputy Governor of the Open Estate says: “.. I’m only coaching one member of staff on a formal basis, I use the skills gained to informally coach my managers and others – however it is probably too early to tell if there has been any significant impact!”

We’re now piloting the latest strand in our approach to developing a coaching culture in SPS, in house delivery of the ILM Level 3 Award in Workplace Coaching, aimed at helping line managers develop basic coaching skills to support individual performance in the workplace. We’ve had really positive feedback about this programme and are now scheduling another.
Participants on the pilot programme are also using the skills in their day to day work and one of the recent “graduates” from the pilot programme gave the following example of how he uses his new skills

“As part of my role…. I have to work closely with external service providers. I was approached by one of our partners asking how she could manage a conflict situation which had arisen between her and one of her fellow team members. By using the skills gained I was able to, (over 4 or 5 coaching sessions) help her to settle on a course of action to take and ultimately reach an outcome which was beneficial to all concerned”.

We’re also aware of the potential need to develop support mechanisms for coaches and a means of ensuring a consistent approach. We were initially hoping to get some of the group who hold the Diploma to take on the Supervisor role, though in realty this may not be the right next step. Whilst coaching activity is undoubtedly taking place across SPS and there are a number of “coaching champions” we’re a long way from having developed a coaching culture, so to look at training a cadre of supervisors at this stage may be a little premature.

Working with a coach isn’t as yet seen by the organisation as an obvious choice of approach to developing people performance. Though colleagues at various levels in the organisation have undergone training there’s still little evidence of their being used in a consistent and coherent way as an organisational resource. As the word spreads however, we hope that other parts of the business will see the benefits of coaching. The best advocates will be those who understand the organisation and have experienced the benefits directly. One First Line Manager who has just completed the Level 3 Award says……

“I’m considering approaching senior management with a view to running awareness sessions for staff, this would go some way to removing the common myths about coaching…”.
Julie PrestonDeveloping a coaching culture is easier said than done, we’ve a long way to go to gain buy in across all parts of the organisation and there’s no telling if we’ll ever achieve that goal. The interventions we’ve undertaken have all been well received and whilst not everyone has chosen to complete the qualification, by using the skills they’ve learned, we as an organisation are moving in the right direction. The following quote from the Governor of the Open Estate perhaps best evidences where we are in developing a coaching culture within SPS and the reason why we will continue to work towards this:

“Since completing my award I have continued to use the tools in a variety of business settings. This has included one to one and group meetings. Along with ….. my Deputy Governor, we have tried to mainstream some of the thinking to improve the capacity and delivery of our management team. I have seen tangible benefits particularly in regard to delivery of our service agreement and the increased motivational levels of our team. This will sustain and improve the Open Estate for many years to come.”

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